Clerics still tilting at windmills

Ken Curtin, a Catholic, reads at Mass in Cobh cathedral. He’s also a member of the Social Democrats, and unsuccessfully fought the last election as their candidate. His position as a reader has been terminated because the Social Democrats are supporting the abolition of the Eighth Amendment, the provision outlawing abortion that was inserted in the Irish constitution in 1983.
The Administrator of the cathedral, Fr John McCarthy, dropped Mr Curtin from the readers’ rota because of the position of the Social Democrats and justified his decision on the grounds that ‘as long as he was a member of a party that was a supporter of something against a core Church belief’ he couldn’t be a reader’.
Mr Curtin had a meeting with Fr McCarthy and Bishop Billy Crean. But apparently the problem wasn’t resolved because the readers’ rota in Cobh cathedral had been finalised for the next year and couldn’t be changed. (This must qualify as one of best prepared rotas in church history). In effect Bishop Crean supported his Administrator.
So, despite the fact that a ‘general dialogue’ will continue between the bishop and the politician, Mr Curtin will not read in the cathedral for a year. And I suspect he’s not holding his breath about his prospects after that.
What’s strange about this episode is that, having gone through so much as a Church, we’ve learned so very little. Even though we know that life is complex and that responses of the Church need to be nuanced and non-judgemental, worryingly we retain the capacity to continually mismanage these types of situations – rather than accept the logic of Pope Francis’question: ‘Who am I to judge?’
But, presumably, happy warriors of the cold war that we are, Pope Francis is a moveable feast, here today and (as some so obviously hope) gone tomorrow. A blip of history, a temporary distraction before we get back to the way we were.
It’s not a million years ago when the Catholic Church in Ireland believed so much in its own position that a secondary teacher in a convent school could be sacked because she had a baby son and was living with the baby’s father, a separated man.
It wouldn’t happen now, of course, because we’ve learned that demanding a one-size-fits-all Catholicism is not only inadequate but inappropriate. It wouldn’t happen too because we know it would be counter-productive in that it would show the Church as narrow, intolerant, dismissive and out-of touch. And it wouldn’t happen too because if we were to sack all the teachers who don’t measure up to what some people say is fundamental to Catholicism, the whole education system would collapse.
Part of the problem we have as a Church is that organised groups of very traditional Catholics are now hunting in packs searching out other Catholics who, in their opinion, don’t measure up. These heresy-hunters harass bishops, priests, religious and other Catholics, judging and demanding and often pushing a series of publications, some of which are hugely disrespectful of others – all in the name of Catholicism!
For example, one Catholic paper had an article supporting the decision in Cobh, pontificating about what Catholicism means, accusing Catholics who don’t live out their faith according to his lights as ‘inconsistent’, dismissing anyone who doesn’t agree with him as ‘confused’ and suggesting that Catholics unhappy with his version of Catholicism should take themselves off to some Protestant Church!
His defence was that the Catholic Church has the right to be what it is: the Catholic Church. Of course it does, but what that writer doesn’t seem to understand is that what he considers Catholicism is not necessarily what Catholicism is. For instance, it’s not part of our Catholic faith to enshrine Catholic teaching in our constitution, as Archbishop Joseph Cassidy (and the Catholic bishops) reassured us during the ‘pro-life’ referendums of recent years. Or that Catholics should force their consciences on others. The duty of legislators is to legislate for all the people and it is no betrayal of Catholicism to respect the rights of others, when they disagree with us.
That’s not to say that Catholic teaching on abortion is not clear. It’s also clear that a campaign to introduce abortion on demand is gaining ground in the media in Ireland and that it’s using the anomaly of ‘fatal foetal abnormalities’ to punch above its weight. It sees a repeal of the Eighth Amendment as a first step towards a liberal abortion regime in Ireland.
But, while everyone (including Catholics) has a right to their opinion (and to vote in whatever way their conscience dictates), dismissing those who voted Yes in the same-sex referendum or those who would vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment as not being Catholics is not just sloganising and name-calling. It’s also judgemental and arrogant and, as almost anyone can see, damaging the Church.
The truth that out-of-control ultra-traditional Catholics have to face is that Catholicism is now a broad Church, that Catholics expect to be treated as adults and that lectures from journalists living off the Church are not just patronising but unacceptable.
If every priest in Ireland was to examine the consciences of everyone who has a ministry in the Church and decide whether or not they tick the one-size-fits-all Catholic box (and act according to the Cobh dictat) it would clear out our parishes in jig-time. We need to jettison that sniffy, arrogant mentality before it does real damage.
It isn’t just Pope Francis who suggests that sitting in judgement is not to be encouraged. Jesus says it too. But that doesn’t seem to matter.

Similar Posts


  1. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Can someone in Cobh please publish this set-in-stone Readers’ Rota for the YEAR OF MERCY (of which the Diocese of Cloyne website makes a great song and dance)?
    Can one Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael or Christian Democrat listed Lector stand up in Cobh’s Sanctuary next Sunday morning and say simply, “Ken Curtin’s a far better reader than I am. Let him do it” ?
    Not all the clerical McCarthys in Cork could withstand the logic of that.

  2. Another large slice of sanity — an excellent piece, Brendan. Thank you. If only they would listen !!

  3. Let he or she who is without sin cast the first stone comes to mind. As Brendan says that would clear the decks fast ?

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    Well spoken, Brendan. But the organization and “passionate intensity” of ultra-conservatives is a fearful force (the same sort of force that makes a Trump victory look likely in the USA). Bishops should be to the forefront in resisting these bullies.

  5. Padraig McCarthy says:

    It’s an important question that Brendan discusses.
    The Eighth Amendment is our current constitutional provision to protect the lives of both mother and unborn child, but it is not the Church position that this is the best way to respect life. It seems an over-reaction to exclude a reader from the list on this account.
    The question, perhaps, is: what provisions would replace the Eighth Amendment? As Brendan writes, Catholicism is a broad church. Does that mean that there are no limits?
    There are some who write about “post-birth abortion.” In other words, are there circumstances in which a person should have a right to terminate the life of a child after birth? If a person involved in politics is an advocate of such a position, is there a justification for excluding that person from public ministry in the Church? If such a person is clearly the best reader the parish has, is this a consideration? If a Catholic politician were to advocate nuclear warfare on another country, would you be happy for that person to be a Minister of the Eucharist? How about a politician who advocates bringing back capital punishment, or torturing prisoners, or cutting Social Welfare in half, or legalising sexual activity between adults and children? You may think of many other possibilities.
    These may seem extreme; but I raise them to pose the question: do we draw the line anywhere? If so, where? Are there some activities or campaigns which are incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and incompatible with public ministry in the Church?

  6. #4 Padraig’s question ‘do we draw the line anywhere?’ naturally leads to another: ‘where / when are opportunities provided for such lines to be discussed and drawn – BY the church community?’
    The answer is, of course, nowhere and never – because of the absurd fiction that ‘church teaching’ is simply a matter of episcopal verbal pronouncement – ‘we say – you do’.
    No teaching ever occurs until something has been learned. Until our hierarchy has corporately understood this, and their consequent magisterial obligation to CONVINCE THROUGH DIALOGUE, they will teach nothing of significance to anybody.
    They also need to note that for centuries the papacy itself drew a distinction between moral and civil law – in that large part of Italy the popes ruled until the late 19th century. When Pius V proposed to imitate his near-contemporary, John Calvin, in imposing the death penalty for adultery (c. 1570) he was obliged to bow to the legal prudential considerations which advised against it – by the Romans themselves.
    Through this and other similar experiences the principle became established – in the church itself – that not only moral but prudential considerations must apply when it comes to imposing state coercion in matters of morality. Why do we never hear of this in Ireland? Are we supposed to be totally ignorant of the church’s own history and practice?

  7. Overall, a good piece, but I surely can’t be the only one to see the irony in Brendan criticising and rejecting “name-calling” and then two sentences later using the term “out-of-control ultra-traditional Catholics” to “name call” those he disagrees with!

  8. Pat Rogers says:

    Another fine article, Brendan, on a topic that should be discussed in every parish in Ireland: How can we find suitable people to do the various ministries, liturgical and otherwise?
    Padraig McCarthy also raises a good question for discussion, whether there are any firm limits for exclusion from such a public ministry as Reader. But I think we should also include the need to consult the local Mass-going people, in borderline, controversial cases.
    So far as I can see, Cobh has a parish pastoral council. I wonder if the parish priest consulted them on whether or not to retain Mr Curtin on the rota of readers? It would seem an issue on which the parish pastoral council should have some say.
    People could perhaps enquire from

  9. Noel Casey says:

    What annoys me most about this case is not that Ken Curtin is not being allowed to read at Mass, but that the excuse of a fixed annual readers’ rota is trotted out as a reason for not being able to reconsider his case. For God’s sake!
    I am responsible for the readers’ rota in my church, a month by month rota. I have just this evening returned from calling on a reader to substitute for someone going on holiday. Rarely does my rota remain intact after the first week. Does no one in Cobh go on holiday? Does no one get sick? I am sure there are many times when Ken Curtin could step in to fill a gap even in a written in stone rota like that in Cobh. Cut the excuses and stick with the issue.

  10. Bernard Kennedy says:

    A fine prophetic piece. Unfortunately we need reminding,as today’s Gospel, that the Spirit gives life, not the law. Recent posting illustrate activities of ‘certain person’s’ and the damaging effect of their secret actions. Acts 25.16-18 tells us all accused must meet accusers- a basic tenet of justice.
    Much difficulty stems from a need for theology updating- a low ascending Christology,demythologisation- and in all things Love.

  11. Maureen Mulvaney says:

    Just on the point where Pat @ #8 wonders if the parish pastoral council was consulted re Mr Curtin on the rota of readers? Pat, from my experience of some parish pastoral councils, they have very little say in this matter or other matters. Many are still at the stage where “Father knows best!”

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.